Former Peace Corps Volunteer Brings Lifetime of Experience to the Red Cross

“It’s a privilege I take very seriously,” is how Caroline Roberts reflects on her position as a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. But serving others in volunteer roles and beyond has been part of her life for decades.

In 1989 Caroline went to Malawi, Africa as a volunteer with the Peace Corps and stayed there for three years working as the Chief Graphic Artist for Malawi’s National Health Education unit. She found herself striving to promote local workers toward work opportunities and the experiences she gained during that time further solidified her passion for serving others and working in teams to accomplish things.

Caroline is not one who takes the spotlight, and does so much work away from the eyes of others, always looking to help the people around her along their own journeys by providing compassionate support and professional know-how.

“I’m really good in behind the scenes work and knowing when to step back and when to step forward,” she said.

After returning from overseas, she worked as a transition coach for young adults with special needs; helping them learn to cook, how to travel and other life skills to help them gain independence. She also worked as a substitute teacher for special education for students of many ages for the past 20 years.

Now in her 70’s with a lifetime of experience, she chose to volunteer with the Red Cross in 2021 on the Disaster Action Team responding to home fires and assisting the people affected. She is one of just a few volunteers in her area near Grayslake, roughly 15 miles from the Wisconsin border.

Expanding from local disasters, Caroline trained to become a shelter volunteer in addition to a disaster volunteer. She then signed up for her first deployment to Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin for three weeks in September of 2021 to assist the thousands of refugees from Afghanistan temporarily placed there.

During that deployment, in additional to providing temporary housing, food, clothing and other everyday essentials, the Red Cross brought in a supply of wheelchairs. Caroline says she knew of one child, in particular with cerebral palsy who she usually saw being carried around by family members. But when the wheelchairs arrived, Caroline and a soldier walked down to the barracks where his family resided and presented them with a brand new, bright yellow, child’s wheelchair.

She says it was truly inspiring to see the joy the gifted wheelchair brought to the family. Friends and others joined to make the moment a memorable, happy gathering. She remembers his smile from ear to ear once he was placed in the chair. It was an experience that left her beaming as well.

Being a volunteer is to be a part of something bigger, and volunteers like Caroline enjoy the camaraderie and sharing of a positive goal. Meeting and working with other volunteers is part of the experience of helping others. She continues to widen her skillset and is now a Shelter Supervisor and also a Reunification volunteer.

“I always say we’re in this together, it’s a team effort and you have to keep remembering that,” Caroline said.

Giving back as a volunteer has been a common thread through her life, whether it is volunteering locally or leaving home for weeks at a time to help refugees.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Thank you for volunteering for the Red Cross, Caroline.

Written by Illinois Red Cross Communications Manager Holly Baker

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